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What Is Dropbox SmartSync

What Is Dropbox Smart Sync & How Does It Work? A Guide for 2024

With Dropbox Smart Sync, you can free up space on your device by storing files and folders fully in the cloud. In this article, we’ll break down all you need to know about Smart Sync and how to use it.

Samuel OkoruwaSamuel ChapmanJasna Mishevska

Written by Samuel Okoruwa (Writer)

Reviewed by Samuel Chapman (Writer, Editor)

Facts checked by Jasna Mishevska (Lead Fact-Checking Editor)

Last Updated: 2024-02-03T12:16:48+00:00

All our content is written fully by humans; we do not publish AI writing. Learn more here.

Cloud storage services like Dropbox enable us to enjoy the convenience of sharing and syncing files across devices. One of the many perks of using Dropbox is that its “smart sync” feature allows users to free up hard drive space by storing files in the cloud only. This guide will explain all the details of Dropbox Smart Sync, plus how it works in your account.

Key Takeaways: What Is Smart Sync?

  • You can use Dropbox’s Smart Sync feature to create space on your device in a few simple steps.
  • Files or folders stored in your Dropbox folder can have different icons depending on their sync status. 
  • You can test Dropbox’s smart sync and selective sync features with a trial of Dropbox Plus, Family, Professional and Business plans.

Dropbox is one of the best cloud storage services for collaboration, and its Smart Sync feature is an easy way to free up space on your device. This feature lets you store files in the cloud alone, removing them from your hard drive to conserve space. With just the click of a button, you can remove files from your computer hard drive. 

This article will break down what Smart Sync does and how you can use it to save space on your device. If you want to read more about Dropbox features, check out our full Dropbox review, what is Dropbox guide or our beginner’s guide to Dropbox

  • 01/16/2023 Facts checked

    Rewrote the article, updating the guide with new information and images.  

What Is Dropbox Smart Sync?

Smart Sync is a Dropbox tool that lets you remove files from your computer hard drive, restricting their availability to just your online Dropbox account. Smart Sync’s sole purpose is to help you save storage space on your device.

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While “Smart Sync” is the popular name for this feature, Dropbox no longer uses this term. Instead, Dropbox describes it as the ability to make files or folders “online-only,” instead of both in the cloud and on your device’s hard drive. For this article, we’ll use the two terms interchangeably. 

Dropbox Smart Sync Online Only
A round gray icon with a white cloud indicates that a file or folder is online-only. 

When you make a file or folder online-only, you can still view it in the Dropbox folder — a folder that appears when you install the Dropbox desktop app — on file explorer (Windows) or finder (Mac). However, you won’t be able to open the online-only file if you’re not connected to the internet. While visible, the file or folder is not actually taking up space on your hard drive.

When a file is online-only, you can’t do anything but view it. Opening an online-only file or folder automatically switches it back to its default state of offline availability, where you can make changes to the file as normal. When you’re done with it, you’ll have to manually make it online-only again. A round gray icon appears on files or folders you’ve made online-only. 

Smart Sync is available on the Dropbox Plus, Family, Professional and Business plans.

Dropbox Selective Sync vs Smart Sync

Dropbox offers two ways to make your files online-only: Smart Sync (which Dropbox now calls online-only) and Selective Sync. 

Like Smart Sync, Selective Sync helps you free up hard drive space by allowing you to make files online-only. However, Selective Sync does not let you view your online-only files or folders in the Dropbox folder on your computer. 

Another way Selective Sync differs from the regular online-only feature is that you can’t use it to remove single files from your device’s hard drive. You can only remove entire folders, including whatever contents those folders contain. 

How to Use Dropbox Smart Sync

The following step-by-step directions will show you how to use Smart Sync within your Dropbox account.

  1. Open the Dropbox Folder

    Locate the Dropbox folder in its default location, either file explorer on Windows or finder on Mac. Once you’ve found the Dropbox folder, open it.

    dropbox open folder
  2. Right-click the File or Folder

    You should now be able to see the items you’ve stored in your Dropbox folder. Right-click the file or folder whose sync status you would like to change.

    dropbox right click file
  3. Make the File or Folder Online-only

    If you want to make the file or folder online-only, click “make online-only.” Once you do this, a round, gray icon with a cloud should appear on the file, indicating that its sync status has changed to online-only.

    dropbox make file online only

How to Make Your Files Available Offline

If you want to make the file or folder available offline, follow the above direction, but instead of selecting “make online-only,” click “make available offline.” 

A thick green circle with a white checkmark should appear on the file or folder, indicating that it is available both on your computer and in your Dropbox account. 

dropbox make file available offline
When you make a file or folder available offline, a thick green circle with a white checkmark appears on it.

What Dropbox Smart Sync Icons Mean

It helps to be familiar with the different Smart Sync icons and what each of them means. In this section, we’ll give you a breakdown of the most common ones and their meanings. 

dropbox sync icons
There are six Dropbox Smart Sync icons you should know.

When you open the Dropbox folder, you’ll notice that each file has an icon on it. The Dropbox icon depends on its sync status. If you make a file online-only, the icon representing online-only files will appear on the file. Here are the Smart Sync icons you should know. 

1. Online-only

When you make a file or folder online-only, it will display a round gray icon with a white cloud. This means that your file has been removed from your computer’s hard drive and is only available in your Dropbox account — it’s not taking up space on your computer, and you can’t access it when you’re not connected to the internet. 

Folders with this icon contain at least one online-only file and may also contain files that are “available” or “available offline.” 

2. Available Offline

A green circle with a white checkmark means that your files and folders are stored in both your Dropbox account and on your device’s hard drive. 

3. Ignored File 

Ignored files display a circular gray icon with a white minus sign. These are files that are stored in the Dropbox folder on your computer, but not on or in your Dropbox server. You can think of them as offline-only files that have not been backed up to your Dropbox account for whatever reason. 

4. Available

A white circle with a green border and green checkmark means that a file has been opened directly through the Dropbox folder or a third-party app.  

5. Sync in Progress 

A blue circle with two curved white arrows appears on a file when it’s in the process of syncing. This icon can appear when you choose to make a file online-only or add it to your hard drive, but the sync status of the file hasn’t finished updating yet. 

6. Sync Error 

Files or folders that were unable to update or sync have a red circle with a white “X.” Your file may fail to sync for any number of reasons.  

Smart Sync Troubleshooting

There are several things you can do when Dropbox is not syncing correctly. There’s no guarantee these will work all the time, but they are some of the most helpful hacks for troubleshooting Dropbox syncing issues.

In rare cases, antivirus programs can flag harmless software as malicious. If Dropbox is failing to sync files, you can check to see if the file sync works when temporarily deactivating your antivirus program.

You can also run into syncing issues if you’ve run out of storage space. Confirm that you have enough storage space on your hard drive and in your Dropbox account to sync the file

If none of these tips work, you can try restarting your deviceor Dropbox app. This terminates any background processes that may be stopping your files from syncing. 

For a full breakdown of the different things you can do to fix Dropbox syncing issues on different platforms, read our guide on why Dropbox is not syncing. You can also read our guide on how to upload files to Dropbox.

Final Thoughts

Dropbox Smart Sync frees up hard disk space by making files or folders online-only (available only in your Dropbox account) or available both in your Dropbox account and your device. Remember that Smart Sync is not available on the Dropbox free plan.

There are several Smart Sync icons to be aware of, including a green checkmark, a white checkmark, an error sign and more. If Smart Sync is not syncing correctly, you can troubleshoot it by disabling antivirus software, restarting your device, or checking the available storage space. 

Have you used Dropbox Smart Sync? Did you encounter any problems when using it? If so, let us know in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading. 


  • You should enable Smart Sync when you think you need more space on your device.

  • Smart Sync is Dropbox’s syncing tool that lets you free up storage space on your computer by making files or folders available on just your Dropbox account. You can still access these files or folders through the Dropbox folder on your computer, but you’ll need to be connected to the internet.

  • You can’t get rid of or delete smart sync, but if you want to disable the feature, you can turn off Smart Sync by simply right-clicking on the file and selecting “make available offline.”

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